Ogden’s Tradition of Christmas Village

On a magical night in the not too distant future, there will be a buzz of excitement and anticipation at our house. My wife will be filling the thermos with piping-hot chocolate and looking for some disposable cups, while I help our kids scramble about trying to find beanies, gloves, and the warmest coats. We are going to Ogden’s Christmas Village!

It is Christmas Eve and Santa is already making his way around the world! We will know precisely where he is because we will be carefully monitoring his progress on http://www.noradsanta.org and we know he will be touching down in Ogden sometime around midnight. With this in mind, we load up the SUV and head downtown for a magical night of Christmas themed discovery at the Ogden City’s Christmas Village at City Hall Park.

On those lucky years, one of my favorite parts is the beautiful glow from freshly-fallen snow reflecting the multi-colored lights adorning the trees, cottages, and decorations all around Christmas Village. The shimmer from the lights reflecting off the wet pavement is also a highlight. For us, the season just wouldn’t be complete without a family excursion to the famed village. If you have never looked in the windows of these uniquely decorated cottages, you should add it to your list for this year’s must dos.

The season at Christmas Village starts with the Electric Light Parade and Opening Lighting Ceremony. Each year, it occurs the Saturday after Thanksgiving, starting with a Santa Run at 4:30 p.m. followed by The Electric Light Parade. At 5:30 p.m., the lights that adorn the trees along Washington Boulevard are turned on as the parade makes its way down Washington Boulevard. After the parade, there is an opening ceremony at the amphitheater at approximately 6:30 p.m. that includes a fireworks show and lighting of all village cottages. From that day until January 1st, the lights are on every day from 5p.m. to midnight. Sometimes water from rain or snow can cause some of the lights to stop working but crews work diligently to dry out the connections and get lights back on.

This year, Christmas Village will have 67 homes, each sponsored by local businesses and organizations. The tradition started in 1962, and you can read some of the details in our “A Look Back” history article in this issue. Today, the village begins to be assembled just after Halloween festivities are completed at the park and amphitheater. For ten months per year, the city stores the cottages that are constructed on trailers. You might not know this because, while on display, the trailers have the wheels removed and are then set down on their frames. One by one, the trailers are pulled into the impromptu village and put into place for display. The Santa’s Castle is the largest fixture in the village, and it takes a special permit to transport it through city streets from the warehouse to the park.

For those who want to sponsor a cottage in the village, there is quite a long waiting list. 23 groups are currently waiting for a cottage to open up. Most of these groups want to take over a booth that someone no longer wants to care for. It can be a little easier to get a space in the village by creating a new cottage from scratch, but is quite a bit more expensive. Bubba’s Trailers sells a special trailer base that is ideal for constructing a Christmas Village cottage. Many of the trailers are built by volunteers, and Weber State students have helped with several cottages over the years. This year, there is a brand new cottage sponsored by Habitat for Humanity. We can’t wait to see what winter theme they create. Even though there is physically room to house more cottages at the park, there is a power shortage, and therefore, not much more expansion is possible. The power availability at the park is nearly maxed out with the 67 booths that will be on display this year.

While Ogden City previously had to seek out companies and groups to construct and decorate the cottages featured in the Christmas Village, the popularity of this event has changed the tide. Now there is a formal application and approval process for would-be cottages. The city looks for unique and well thought-out cottage ideas and groups that are committed to keeping their ideas fresh and updated each year. My family appreciates cottages that have either unique new designs each year or at least have updated fresh looks. The best booths are voted upon by the visiting public on the city’s website, where they can pick the Best of Show each year. You can place your vote at christmasvillage.ogdencity.com

Each village contains a Christmas-themed scene that is dreamt up by the company or group sponsoring it. Sponsors can decorate and update their cottages during the off season, but most companies wait until the cottages are set up in the park to make their changes.  There is an overall Christmas theme introduced each year for the village, though each cottage can feature a theme of its own. This year’s village theme is “Are you Yeti for Christmas?” In each cottage you will find a cute little figurine that Cottage creators can hide anywhere they want. Our kids race to see if they can be the first to find the small hidden do-dad in each cottage.

At the heart of this wonderful event and display are a group of 14 incredible volunteers who work all year to pull off the event. This group of 14 is the leadership board for the Christmas Village, and they are also assisted by around 100 community volunteers during the setup phase of the event that happens in November. The board takes the month of January off and then, starting in February, the meetings begin, where they select the theme for the upcoming year and elect the next Honorary Village Mayor. Those meetings continue each month for the rest of the year. The title of Honorary Mayor is bestowed upon someone who has had a positive impact on Christmas Village festivities over the years.

This year, the Honorary Mayor is Ernie Terravas. Ernie was born in Syracuse, Kansas, and then lived in Colorado until the age of seven. He attended schools in Ogden City and graduated from Washington High School. He started working for Ogden City in April of 1980 and retired in August of last year after 38 years of service. He has one son, Earnest Anthony Terrazas and twin daughters Erica Terrazas Sapien and Kimberly Terrazas Moldenhauer. He also has three grandchildren.

Raising his children in Ogden, he volunteered as a coach for various recreation teams, worked as assistant basketball coach for 4 years at Mound Fort Jr. High, and 3 years as assistant baseball coach at Ben Lomond High School.

He has also been part of making Christmas Village happen since 1980 when there were only 13 cottages. He loves Christmas Village because he loves seeing the kids’ eyes light up at the lighting ceremony. He also loves seeing the magic of the village bring happiness to so many visitors. He loved how he was able to use his creative energies to help build and maintain the village each season. Some of his favorite memories came from behind the scenes working with other city employees and volunteers. This year, he was named the Honorary Mayor of Christmas Village in honor of his many years of hard work and efforts to help make Christmas Village what it is today.

Craig Bielik has volunteered at Christmas Village for more than 10 years. He was raised in Ogden and has powerful memories of the village from early on in his life. He has now visited the village with his parents, on his first date with his wife, and with his kids and his grandkids. He decided to volunteer because he wanted to see the village succeed and feels it is one of the best events the city holds each year.

When asked about his favorite memory from over the years of volunteering, it was an easy answer from Craig. They were approached by a young man who wanted to propose to his girlfriend at one of her favorite places, Christmas Village. The man really wanted it to be memorable so he got permission to be inside of one of the cottages. When his soon-to-be fiancé came by with some friends, she looked through the cottage window and was shocked to see her boyfriend inside. He held up a handwritten sign asking for her hand in marriage. It added more magic to the already magical Christmas season tradition for Craig. 

He also loves that, every year, there is a great turnout of people at opening ceremonies, regardless of the weather.

Christmas Village is already part of so many local’s holiday tradition, and we hope there can be even more visitors this year and in the years to come. This is definitely something to be proud of for all residents of Northern Utah.

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